Baker visits D.C. to witness history
Reds manager brings family to the Inauguration in search of hope
It was in July, the Barack Obama campaign rolling full-steam ahead, that Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker made a promise to his wife and their son.
"I told Melissa and Darren that if Barack won," Baker said by phone this past weekend, "I'd take them to the Inauguration."
The Baker family's excellent adventure began on Sunday with a flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., where on Tuesday Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States at the U.S. Capitol.
As he soaks it all in, the wonder and splendor of it all, Baker will be thinking about his parents and what this means to them and all African-Americans of their generation.
Christine and Johnnie B. Baker Sr. raised Dusty and his siblings in Riverside, where he was born in 1949, and then in Sacramento with a social awareness that has served Johnnie B. Jr. well throughout his illustrious career as a ballplayer, coach and manager.
Baker Sr., now 83, worked two jobs, one with the U.S. Air Force, in Dusty's youth, while Christine, 77, was teaching history, specializing in black studies.
"They've seen a lot," Dusty said. "A lot of people of all nationalities have seen a lot -- good, bad and change. I'm sure my folks, and a whole lot of other folks, will be real happy on Tuesday.
"I know a lot of people, including some big ol' dudes, were crying the night of the election. My parents worked on getting people registered to vote way back when John F. Kennedy was running for president [in 1960]. I was just a kid then, 11 years old. But I remember how important JFK was to my parents, what he represented. And now we have this momentous event.
"My dad was disabled on Election Night and wasn't able to really see the reaction. My mom was downtown [in Sacramento]. She and my dad were very active in the NAACP. She's been active socially her whole life. She was working for Barack in this election, getting out the vote."
It was through Gary Matthews, his hitting coach in Chicago while Baker was managing the Cubs, that Dusty met Obama, who'd served eight years in the Illinois Senate representing Chicago's 13th District, on the South Side, before his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate.
There was a Chicago birthday party for Matthews' daughter, attended by the future president and the Baker family, and several memorable dinner parties hosted by the Bakers during Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz.
"Sarge [Matthews] asked me if he could invite Barack over," Baker said. "Sarge and I would cook and put on these dinners, and Barack came over and just hung out with everybody else. He was a regular guy, very polite, smooth. A cool dude, really. You couldn't help but like the guy.
"He gave me his cell phone number and told me to call if anybody needed anything. I'd call, hoping to get his answering machine, knowing how busy he was. He'd answer every time, and we'd talk. I didn't want to bug him, but he said to call any time.
"After he won the election, I called to congratulate him but didn't get through. I heard later that they'd taken his cell phone away. But Sarge told me he got the message."
Now a broadcaster for the Phillies, with son Gary Jr. playing for the Angels, Matthews gave Baker a call from Philadelphia on Friday night.
"He told me he was having a hamburger with the president," Baker said. "Sarge and his wife, Sandy, have done a lot of work in support of Barack. They've gotten to know Michelle, and Gary's daughter is close with Barack's daughters."
Obama departed the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday, bound for D.C. and his appointment with history. It would arrive one day after Martin Luther King Day.
"I'm praying for Barack," Baker said. "He's the busiest man in the world now. We have environmental issues, political issues, money issues. Everybody is focused on the economy, but foreign policy issues are just as important.
"If anybody can handle it, with his demeanor and intelligence, he can. Barack and his Cabinet, his people, have done their due diligence to get us out of this mess and get us back to being America, respected around the world.
"From what I've read and seen, the world seems happy with Barack's election. It sure seems like we're beginning to get back on the right track."
The "Audacity of Hope." Obama wrote the book on the subject.
"The biggest compliment I ever got as a manager was when I was with the Giants," Baker, a three-time National League Manager of the Year in San Francisco, said. "I was getting a physical and there was a male nurse there, and he said, 'Dusty, you give us hope.'
"I thought about that on the way home. Hope will make you tolerant, patient. Hope will make you optimistic. That's what Barack does. He gives us reason for optimism.
"This is the most involved I've seen young people on the political scene. I speak at Stanford every year, and I spoke at Yale a couple years ago. Every time I go on a campus, it gives me a great sense of hope in our much-maligned next generation. I see some dynamite kids coming up. They'll challenge you, and you can't lie to them. They want the truth."
Darren Baker was given a couple of days off from school with the assignment of delivering a special report on the big trip.
"He's got his little suit -- and a top-hat," Baker said. "My dad always wore hats. My favorite picture is one with my dad, me and Darren, all wearing hats. Old- school style."
When he returns home to the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, Darren Baker, the former Giants batboy, will have some amazing new tales to tell his classmates.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.